03 March 2008

being a good yoga student

"What you want
(oo) Baby, I got
(oo) What you need
(oo) Do you know I got it?
(oo) All I'm askin'
(oo) Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(just a little bit) mister (just a little bit)

Find out what it means to me

This post is inspired by an incident that happened to me yesterday -- so be warned, this may turn into a rant.

One of the differences I've found (and there are many) between yoga in India and yoga here is that yoga teachers in India are respected. When I'm in India and someone asks what I do and I tell them that I teach yoga, there is a big difference in the reaction compared to someone asking the same question here. I don't expect anyone to bow down and touch my feet, but here I might as well tell someone that I teach a spinning class. or else someone will say, "I took pilates once." Say what?!?

Now I know that most of you will say "I like my teacher! She/He is a nice person!"; "She/he is a great teacher!"; "I love taking her/his classes!", and that's fine. But how many of you RESPECT your teacher as your TEACHER, A MENTOR - and dare I say it to western readers - a GURU, and not just someone who you try to mimic physically 90 minutes a week? My teacher from India will be here for a training in May and I would have no hesitation whatsoever bowing to touch his feet as one would to any revered teacher in India.

I was teaching my usual yin class yesterday morning and two young women came in late. I had never seen them before and as I learned later from the studio owner, they had never been to the studio before. They walked into class about 10 minutes late as I was leading the class in their first breath awareness practice so I was not about to stop, ask them to sign a waiver, and get money from them. They never said hello or acknowledged me whatsoever when they came in, not even when I brought them props. To make a long story short, they walked out during the middle of my class without paying and without saying a word. I walked out into the lobby a few minutes after they left, but they were already gone.

What angers me is not the fact that they stole from the studio owner and from me, but they obviously had no respect for yoga or for the other students.

A friend of mine who is also a yoga teacher teaches at a corporate fitness center. She doesn't teach a "power yoga" class as one might expect in that situation. The other day she told me that she was leading the class in awareness, asking them to just let go of whatever brought them there today, let go of the bad weather, the bad drive, etc. She said that during class she could tell that one woman was not in her body, she was antsy and nervous. My friend went over to to ask her if she was OK. Apparently the woman did not like the way my friend was teaching the class, so she told her in no uncertain terms, "THIS IS A FITNESS CLASS! F-I-T-N-E-S-S!" and yes, the woman actually spelled it.

I wonder if the woman knows how to spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T....


an article by Mehtab, Yoga Yoga's Founder
(from Midwest Yoga Teachers Network Newsletter)

I was teaching a yoga class and the woman in the back of the room was doing yoga. Only it wasn't the type of yoga I was teaching or that the rest of the class was doing.

I watched fascinated as she moved through an elaborate series of seemingly invented postures, oblivious to the rest of the class. She did relax at the end with everyone else, however.

I asked her afterwards what she was doing.

"Oh, I am just listening to my body and doing whatever it tells me to do," she said.

"So why do you want to come to this class?," I ask.

"You're a great teacher," she said. I started to humbly thank her. "So your classes are crowded and I can hide in the back and do my own practice."

As yoga students, we are always looking for a great teacher, someone who can inspire us, teach us, and take us to the next level. But the search for a great yoga teacher must start within us. We need to become a great student first.

Here are the guidelines to become a great yoga student:

Realize everyone has something to teach you.

Yoga students and sometimes yoga teachers make the mistake in thinking that teaching yoga is about winning a popularity contest. Students compare notes in the studio lobby, "Oh, if you like Teacher A, you will really like Teacher B. I think Teacher C is too easy. Teacher D really works you out. But now I am at the point where I only want to go to classes taught by Teacher Z."

I have seen students even show up to take a class and then walk out when they discover their "favorite" teacher is not there that day. They miss the point. Yoga is not teacher-centric, It is practice-centric.

Every teacher has something to teach you - and often it is not what you think it should be. I remember going to a yoga class years ago with my wife and telling her afterwards: "The teacher drove me crazy with his fake-sounding, super-mellow voice." "Yeah," she said. "He reminded me a lot of you." Enough said.

Respect the teacher within the teacher.

In the yogic tradition for hundreds of years, the teacher was the most respected person in your life - more than your parents or any figure of authority. We do not understand that in the West because we often mistake the role of the teacher with the personality of the teacher. The role of the teacher is someone who shares the teachings. The teachings are the important thing - not the personality of the individual teacher.

When you show respect to a teacher, you show respect for all teachers, for the teachings of yoga, and ultimately for yourself. If you want to rebel and be disrespectful, please park in a no-parking zone, talk back to your boss, or engage in your favorite self-indulgent destructive behavior - but always respect the teacher within the teacher. It is the only way you can learn what yoga is really about.

Understand a teacher is 90% the projection of the student.

Whatever you think about your teacher is almost all about what you think about yourself and has very little to do with the teacher. A teacher is a mirror that reflects the student. This is the only way we can learn about ourselves - through self-reflection. I remember a comment card we got from one student about a teacher: "He doesn't even look like a yogi. He's too fat. He thinks he is better than everybody else, sitting in front of us and making his little jokes." For this person, appearances are everything and any value the teacher could have offered is lost in a projection of a student's own insecurity.

On the other hand, students can have positive projective fantasies about their teachers that are also more about their own needs than about the teachers themselves. I remember one woman going up to a nationally known teacher at the end of a workshop and telling him: "During our last meditation, I opened my eyes and I saw you in the most beautiful and blissful state. Your heart center was really, really open. What were you meditating on?" He replied: "Cheese and macaroni. That is what I am having for supper tonight."

Examine the reactions and thoughts you have about your teacher. They will tell you a lot about your current state of mind, fears, and lessons you need to learn.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

This is an old saying in almost all practices and spiritual traditions. What it means is that you often get the teacher you deserve or, more politely, the teacher you are capable of encountering at the level of your current development. As you advance in your self-understanding, your capacity to recognize and attract the teacher you need to reach the next level also increases. Why should a master teacher waste time with you if you are not willing to master yourself?

Students make the mistake believing that if they can only find an advanced teacher, they will advance. Instead you need to do the work with the teacher right there in front of you. Then you will earn the right to meet your next Teacher.

One simple test is this: Are you ready to meet your teacher when they do arrive to teach you? Are you fully present, sitting in class and ready to learn? Or do you come in after the teacher has arrived and class has begun? We all have an emergency once or twice a year that may cause us to be late to yoga class, but think of the energetic message you are sending by showing up after the teacher has arrived. Who is waiting on whom to appear?

Know that the only purpose of having a teacher outside yourself is to realize the teacher within yourself.

A great student realizes that they are the teacher as well as the student. Ultimately your yoga practice must become self-directed -- but not in the same way as the person who does his or her own poses at the back of the class. Through your yoga practice, you will increase you awareness, awaken your intuition, and learn to trust that guiding spirit that is present in all human beings. This awakening will direct you. Others will continue to teach you, but you will realize that is only through your own self-study, discipline, and surrender to grace that will you understand the purpose of yoga.

When you know that teacher lives within you and within all others, then you will become a great student.

May you have great teachers in your life.
May you teach others by your presence.
May you recognize and honor all teachers.
May you recognize and honor yourself.


Yogamum said...

Absolutely fantastic post from start to finish!! As the daughter of educators, I was raised to respect all teachers, and I truly do, from my kids' teachers to my yoga teachers.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I moved last year and have been frustrated b/c I can't find a yoga teacher like my old one. Good thoughts here to apply to my new classes and teachers.


darkorpheus said...

Thank you for posting this. I was grinning to myself because I recognise the "bad" student in myself when I read it. It's a great reminder, because I am the sort of student that prefers to "follow" a few preferred teachers. Kind of like a yoga groupie. :)

But one time my favourite teachers were on leave I had to take classes from another teacher, Julie. Julie's style was slower -- and she didn't want us to push to our edge like the other teachers I am used to (my others teachers tend to be more Type-A Power Yoga types). I was annoyed at first, but after class I thought about it, and I realise I did learn something.

I realise that by moving into the poses more slowly, I was able to take a more meditative approach to the practice. Julie's approach is less about gaining strength, gaining power. Her practice is about mindfulness and really paying attention each pose -- and the reason I was so annoyed during class was because I am the easily agitated sort who can't sit.

As much as Julie has to teach me, I wasn't learning it until I was ready to show up and pay attention.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It must be difficult to be a yoga teacher in this country. Or a teacher at all, for that matter. Respect is simply not something that is valued here. People don't respect the elderly, either---they are completely dismissed, although they have much to teach. Respect is a value that we would do well to reestablish.

I admire that you are aware enough to demand respect, but it would be great if all yoga students could read this post, because if people don't want to give it, they simply won't (like the two women who came to your class).

Over time, I have come to the awareness that every teacher has something to teach me. I don't grumble these days when a different teacher is unexpectedly subbing---I have noticed that I often learn even more in these situations.

Thank you for this very honest post, Linda.

Angie said...

I'm so glad I found your blog Linda. I recently have started practicing at a new yoga studio. I dearly loved my previous teacher, but could not block out all the distractons and noise coming from the basketball courts underneath the room we practiced in and the walking track that passed around three quarters of our classroom (windows all around). Anyway, I had a hard time leaving and wondered that perhaps it was my own lack of discipline that I could not continue my practice in that environment.

My teacher at my new studio is very different from my previous teacher and I respect that, but it's been an adjustment. Your post here has helped me take a deeper look at this change in my life and has helped me to embrace the unique qualities of my new teacher.

Marilyn P. Sushi said...

I love this post. It really made me think about where I am in my level of respect (if I have any) for my teachers and for myself. There have been times where I was disappointed to find a sub in front of the room but I stay and work it out and try to figure out why I'm feeling what I'm feeling. I'm usually pretty thankful that I end up staying.

My favorite teacher I just adore as a person and I do respect her a lot and always listen to every word she has to say. She's a little kooky and far from perfect but that just adds to her charm. :)

Anonymous said...

My one of my teachers is taking a scheduled summer break for 3 months. I will miss her classes terribly, and was wondering if a 'thank you and see you in september' card would be correct or is it too mushy.

Linda-Sama said...

it would absolutely NOT be mushy, Lisa! we all need to be thanked occassionally for what we do, yoga teachers included! I am sure your teacher would love it!